• Sunday , 21 January 2018
Breaking down in beautiful places: Malaysia

Breaking down in beautiful places: Malaysia

Traveling for so long and for so far teaches many lessons. One critical point that has come clear to us once again, here in Malaysia, is that epic adventures rarely run to plan and an infinity of adjustments are required to keep the train rolling on the tracks. We had plans for Malaysia but the discovery of a frame cracked in two places on my motorcycle forced adjustments on the fly, adjustments that led to new friendships and unplanned activities. In short, the interruptions are the adventure, and if you learn to embrace the fact you that you are never truly in control, disappointment is reduced and the novelty of the unexpected situation becomes a key facet to the trip. But mostly in hindsight, broken bikes still suck.

Shannon and I having a sundowner outside the cut-rate bottle shop, by midnight this street will be packed with locals getting down to serious drinking. The city of Georgetown on Penang Island, Malaysia is a town like no other. Owing to a mix of the various ethnicities and religions that arrived here during its heyday as a British territory, Georgetown acquired a large assortment of colonial and Asian eclectic architectural styles and cultures.

Sunset over the port. Georgetown, Malaysia.

Penang Island has a reputation as Malaysia’s gastronomic capital, due to its unique and ubiquitous street food. We loved going to the food courts where you can order small dishes from many stalls, a great way to taste your way through Malaysia.

Penang curry in Penang. It was as good as it looks.

Outside the cut-rate bottle shop a little later in the evening. Mind you, this dubious gathering in front of the shop every night is not exactly legal but no one seems to mind. At the left of the photo are Luis and Kenneth, they work at Planet Cycle Shop in Georgetown and became good friends over our two weeks in Penang. Kevin is at the other end of the table and is one of the other riders we came through Myanmar with. Kevin just happened to be in Georgetown the same time as us and it was good to see him one last time before he rushes ahead bound for Australia.

We were lucky the problem surfaced in Malaysia where quality welding and fabrication is available; Sumatra would not have been so easy. While doing routine maintenance I had the tank/seat/side covers off and an inspection of the frame showed damaged that could not be ignored. We cancelled a trip to Langkawi Island and focused on getting the right people on the repair job. It meant a much longer stay on Penang Island but what a delightful place to be laid up.

Penang Island and its main city Georgetown is the culinary capital of Malaysia and a UNESCO world heritage site to boot. We had plenty to keep ourselves occupied. Some days we did “art walk” tours (see the slideshow for extra art photos – amazing stuff), some days we went to the movies, and others we searched out the “best of” restaurants and food carts for specific local dishes. We made friends with the staff at Planet Motorcycles, the local KTM/Husqvarna dealer, and often met our new friends after work for a sundowner and snacks. Our new pals let me work for two days in the surgically clean KTM garage doing routine maintenance and oil changes on both bikes. Shannon’s bike Zippy is getting loose in the piston rings and now burns through a few liters of oil between servicing but I gave her fresh oil anyway. At least Zippy isn’t blowing blue smoke out of the exhaust, yet. I think the old girl will make it home and I can rebuild the top end in my own garage next winter.

It has been a long trip riding from Seattle to this point in Malaysia and the bikes have worked hard and long. A combination of too many bad roads and a heavy load have broken the Black Donkey’s back in two places. We extended our stay in Georgetown and my bike went to a highly rated weld shop for repairs to the broken frame.

The master welder took a long time deciding on how to best perform the repairs. In the end he fabricated additional supports and TIG welded the Donkey back to health.

Finding places to do maintenance on the bikes almost always leads to meeting new friends. Kenneth is the lead KTM mechanic at Planet Cycle Shop in Georgetown. He lent me space in his workshop for a couple of days to tune up our Suzukis before heading into Sumatra.

The old district of Georgetown is preserved as an UNESCO world heritage site. Walking the quiet streets at night was a feast for the eyes.

Our neighborhood in Georgetown was a funky and eclectic slice of heaven.

This is not a street art display but simply someones front door to their apartment. Georgetown, Penang Island, Malaysia.

Dirty reading glasses getting some love on the way to find some tasty roti canai for breakfast.

This iconic painting of a boy on a motorcycle is one of many street art treasures that give Georgetown its magic feel. See the slideshow for extra art photos.

Not everyday is about riding our motorcycles. One evening we went to see the new King Kong movie in a ‘beanie’ theater. We had no idea what that meant until we got inside. Instead of customary seats the theater had bean-bag nests to lounge on, very comfortable. We also had the the entire theater to ourselves, hubba-hubba.

Before the tune-ups commenced and the broken frame discovered we made a looping tour though Northern Malaysia using Penang Island as our start and end point.

The Cameron Highlands are just that “high lands” and the elevation is a cool weather break from the scorching tropical lowlands. Fun fact: as moist tropical air off the Indian Ocean rises over mountains it cools and precipitates its moisture as rain, in other words, we got wet every afternoon in the form of thunder storms. We were lucky to score camping under a giant plastic roof that protected a commercial flower farm so we stayed cozy and dry in our tent.

We dropped out of the Highlands to visit the oldest primordial rainforest in the world, it is estimated at 130 million years old. Taman Negara National Park is the epitome of hot and steamy jungle. We self-guided ourselves on trails leaving a river of sweat behind, the hike was beautiful but bloody hot. After a full day of canopy walks and trekking we had had enough and made our return to Penang Island using different roads where we could. Nothing aggravates an overland traveler more than backtracking.

S&M Boiler Works are the rainmakers and our sojourn into the Cameron Highlands was no exception. But the great roads and light traffic made getting a little wet a small price to pay for the treat of cool temperatures in the mountains.

One of a kind camping in the Cameron Highlands of Malaysia. We were able to set our tent under the giant roof of a commercial flower farm and stayed cozy and dry during the nightly thunderstorms. The green tarp over the tent is to keep it dark inside, otherwise we’d be up with the sunrise.

Taman Negara is a vast national park in Malaysia. It encompasses a huge tract of tropical rainforest that is estimated to be 130 million years old. The canopy walk was a stressful trek for Shannon. The tipsy walkway and dizzying heights had her wound pretty tight.

The canopy walk in Taman Negara National Park.

After a long day’s ride the soothing green and cool temperature make our ‘butt-break’ near a tea plantation a very relaxing experience. Cameron Highlands, Malaysia.

Once back to the institution that is the Noble Hotel in Georgetown I went to work on the bikes and Shannon finalized shipping our motorcycles into Indonesia. While we were able to fly very cheaply to Sumatra the bikes had to go by sea as declared cargo. Mr. Lim, a legend among motorcyclists, runs a small cargo boat between Penang and Sumatra. The boat sails once a week and on our voyage there were two other motorcycles for a total of four. The whole deal was done in cash and on faith; we only knew Mr. Lim from email and word of mouth from other travelers. He was a lovely man who provided every service as promised at the price originally quoted. For details see our border crossing report: Malaysia to Indonesia Border Report.

We know a guy, who knows a guy, who gave us an email for another guy who has access to a wooden tramper between Malaysia and Sumatra. With faith, and some cash, we left the bikes on the pier in Butterworth and walked away. On our way to deliver the bikes for sea shipment we rode the commuter ferry off Penang Island to meet our tramper, the main port is on the mainland. This is a rare sight indeed, Shannon riding without proper gear!

We were pleasantly surprised to not be the only motorcyclists using this unconventional transport. A Turkish Africa Twin and a Swiss Royal Enfield will also be aboard.

It is sad that we didn’t have more time for Malaysia, but I am sad we didn’t have time in just about every country we have been (sorry Panama, I had all I wanted when I was there). We made friends in Malaysia, toured a beautiful section of country, ate well, and were happy and satisfied. To ask for more would be greedy and tempt fate, for luck and good karma continue to envelope us in Malaysia and that is good enough for us.

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